Just starting out on my own as an owner/operator and I wanted to know why you think it’s important to work on getting customers. I get all my loads from a load board. Don’t you think that’s enough?
Welcome to the world of being your own boss. As an owner-operator, you’re in a sweet spot. You are moving from being stuck taking loads you don’t want that won’t make you enough money on to determining your own schedule. Choosing your own loads, and best of all, having your own truck instead of whatever breakdown your bosses might have given you. You’ll earn more money and take control of your life.
Why Build a Customer Base?
Why build a customer base? Because trucking goes in cycles. Maybe it’s easy to get loads at a good rate right now. Maybe the number of drivers is down so the shippers realize they have to pay more. Perhaps the market is supporting the higher rates. But at some point, it’s not going to be as good as it is right now.
It’s true that load boards can be a great resource for new carriers looking for freight loads to move. There are even free load boards that don’t require you to pay for the service, which is an obvious benefit. Using free truck load boards may be a good way for you to get started in the trucking industry when you don’t necessarily have a lot of contacts with direct shippers. As a new owner-operator, truck load boards can help you get your foot in the door. It’ll help you get your first few loads, bringing in some revenue, contacts and practical experience that will help you down the road. However, truck load boards tend to be competitive and the profit margins are slim. While using load boards may be a good initial approach for beginner owner-operators, it’s not necessarily a good long-term strategy for your trucking business.
If you want your trucking business to thrive, even when trucking loads are down, you need a solid foundation of regular, reliable customers you know you can count on. When you have direct contracts with shippers, you have more control over the loads you move. You also aren’t dealing with strangers or competing with other carriers on a load board. Furthermore, you aren’t giving up revenues to freight brokers.
Building up a customer base with loyal shippers gets you over the hump of not enough loads or not enough money. Build a good relationship with a shipper and they’ll think of you when a load comes up – maybe even before it hits the load board. You’ll have first shot at it. That’s a pretty sweet place to be too.
Dedicated customers and regular lanes are a great way to have a trucker’s life. You can make plans to be at home when you know you’ll be home, not stuck in some town a thousand miles from home and facing hundreds of deadhead miles to get your next load that you found on a load board. Sometimes it’s just getting to know the shipping dock crew by name or bringing them a dozen donuts. Being prompt and notifying the shipper if there are delays in the scheduled delivery works well too. The more you communicate with the shippers, the more likely they’ll call you back. It’s not always who gets the first crack at the posting on the load board – the best loads often never make it there at all. The key is to build relationships with customers. They have to know, like and trust you. Then, they’ll call you before they ever go to the load board.
If I don’t use a load board, what should I use?
If you use TruckingOffice trucking software, you’ll be creating a list of your shippers. You’ll have all the necessary information to keep in contact with them and let them know when you’ll be in the area if they have a load ready to go. It used to be that I would send a note ahead when I knew where I would be. Now it’s all email. This is a lot more effective, but easier to ignore. Build a relationship and your email won’t get deleted without being read.
Get a reliable reputation and build relationships to tide your trucking business over the tough times.